The Queen of Spades 1949 *****

queen of spades 5 suvorin countessFilms can be good and bad; only a few offer magic. Theodore Roszak’s 1991 novel Flicker is about a film-maker whose connection to the black arts allows him to put subliminal messages in his films that make them hypnotic; while it sounds like an ideal David Fincher project, it’s yet to be filmed. But some movies, from Last Year in Marienbad to Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and Celeine and Julie Go Boating have it, an inexplicable quality that makes the film feel like more than what’s on-screen. The Queen of Spaces is such a film. There’s been a few brilliant horror films adapted from work by great Russian writers; much like Mario Bava’s spell-binding adaption of Chekov’s A Drop of Water in his Black Sabbath anthology, Thorold Dickinson’s Pushkin adaptation has a sense of dread that chills the bones. Anton Walbrook is the manipulative Captain Suvorin who seeks the secret of a elderly countess (Edith Evans); she’s reputed to be a witch, who has sold her soul to the devil to discover how to win every card game she plays. But at what price? Suvorin’s first mistake is to seduce the Countess’s ward to get closer to her; once he inveigles his way to the dying countess’s bedside, things are only going to go against him in the cruellest way possible. The Queen of Spades is a film believed lost for years, but it looks sensational now, with disconcerting use of glass and mirrors to create a unique sense of 1806 St Petersburg. Treasured British film stalwart Michael Medwin is also amongst the cast; if you’re tiring of jump-scares and monster masks, The Queen of Spades is almost certainly the best ghost story you’ve never seen. It’s real cinematic magic.

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Pokemon; Detective Pikachu 2018 ****

Pokemon movies are 40 miles of bad road for the unwary; unimpressive animation, convoluted stories, and a sense that all the information required for a basic comprehension is not on-screen; the Pokemon animations feel like an accessory to the game, rather than the other way round. But those who deny the power of Mewtwo will have to adjust their thinking after Rob Letterman’s film, a far more imaginative and involving effort than anyone might have expected. Justice Smith plays Pokemon trainer Tim, who teams up with the deer-stalker sporting bundle of fur named Pikachu to solve a case; voiced by Ryan Reynolds, Pikachu offers a PG version of Deadpool’s trademark snark, which works well here to deflate any potential cuteness. Kathryn Newton also makes an impression as cub-reporter Lucy Stevens, but it’s the Pokemon themselves which are the real stars. While the plot takes a few steers from Zootopia and Happytime Murders in terms of a detective investigating a world balanced between furry creature and humans, it also provides plenty of opportunity for huge fantasy set-pieces, with the effects team on point to create an inflatable-strewn city parade and a massive chase through the Scottish countryside that literally makes the earth move. Franchise starters are many and standard; Pokemon; Detective Pikachu is one of the few which leave audiences keen to catch a few more. And goodness knows what Bill Nighy thinks he’s doing here, but he rips through his dailogue in the best traditions of a pantomime baddie.

Sometimes Always Never 2019 ***

Big-name writer Frank Cottrell Boyce adapting his own short story is the selling point here. Sometimes Always Never is about Alan, a widowed Scrabble-obsessed grandpa (Bill Nighy) who ignores his son Peter (Sam Reilly),  Peter’s wife Sue (Alice Lowe) and his grandchild. The reason for his neglect is that Alan is obsessed by his other son, who has been missing for years after walking out on a game of Scrabble. Father and son go to view and potentially identify a dead body, leading Alan to have an affair with Jenny Agutter under the nose of her husband (Tim McInnery). Alan is also playing Scrabble online with a mysterious man; could this be the missing son? The original title, Triple Word Score, makes more sense that the one used here, which relates to the buttons on a man’s suit and when you should button them. This simple narrative might have worked as s short story, but it feels more like an afternoon radio play than a film. That said, Nighy is always good, and has plenty to get his teeth into for once, and it’s nice to see him playing a real person and not phoning it in as a vampire overlord. The wistful, melancholic air is pervasive, and while slight, Sometimes Always Never is the kind of tiny, but mature and worthwhile film that’s worth highlighting.